Just in case you weren’t aware, 2013 was an astounding year for film. With 2014 seeming to proceed at an alarming rate, I wanted to look back on some of the films that I was lucky enough to have watched that some others may have missed out on. This is a collection of movies mostly ignored at the recent Academy Awards and the box office; nevertheless these films are definitely worth watching.
Director Chan-wook Park came to the forefront of Korean cinema with his incomparable ‘Vengance’ trilogy. Arguably the most famous of the collection is ‘Oldboy’, a sublimely told tale of redemption; so good that it’s just been treated to a dreadful American adaption. In 2013 Park brought us ‘Stoker’, starring Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman. The film marks the director’s first venture into Western cinema with a full English speaking cast. Despite that, it manages to maintain some of the marked ingenuities that have come to be associated with modern Asian cinema. Wasikowska plays India Stoker, a beautiful young girl visited by a mysterious uncle after the death of her father. The story is one with a few unexpected twists, often leading the audience into a sense of security before a moment of shock. The film is greatly aided by a performance from Matthew Goode, playing India’s uncle Charlie. Perfectly combining an intriguing persona with a terrifying plasticity about him, Goode’s character yells out that something’s not quite right. A perfect film for anyone looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
There’s a new wave of comedy hitting screens of late. Judd Apatow and co first hit the nail on the head with the likes of ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘Grown Ups’ – modern relationships, modern problems, made funny. The movement’s evolved further with writers and directors taking an almost satirical look at our generation’s traits and insecurities. Lena Dunham’s ‘Girl’s’ has proven to be huge hit for HBO; a contemporary take on female life New York, managing to be funny and brutally honest in one fell swoop. ‘Frances Ha’, released in July, takes a similar concept and quite literally, runs with it. Greta Gerwig gives a commanding performance as the title character, a twenty-something singleton struggling to pay the rent, struggling to follow her ambitions and struggling to fall in love. Entirely black and white, there’s an almost nostalgic air to the film. It reminded me a little of the aspirational films of old, where small town folk would travel to big cities in the hope of fulfilling their dreams. Frances, a would-be dancer, just wants to make it –through the month, through her troubles, make it to somewhere she can be secure. It’s a whimsical, charming film for a contemporary audience.
Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy is one applauded by critics but largely overlooked by the box office. As director and writer, Linklater has proven over three movies to be a master of long takes and dialogue. Effortlessly charismatic, there’s a ten-year gap between each film, culminating in 2013’s ‘Before Midnight’. As with the films before it, ‘Before Midnight’ focuses on Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Over the course of the trilogy we’ve been treated to seeing their relationship develop, from the very first night they met (‘Before Sunrise’, 1993), up until they met again by chance ten years later (‘Before Sunset’, 2003) and then concluding in this latest offering. The great thing about this series is that they don’t feel like just a glimpse into a relationship; we are as an audience, treated to the very essence of their experiences and emotions. Each film’s looks like a love letter to the cities in which they were filmed – Vienna, Paris and Messinia in Greece respectively. Over the course of the films, Linklater draws you into both the cities and into his protagonists’ minds. Having watched all three films in quick succession I can whole-heartedly say that they collectively form my favourite trilogy in recent memory (and that’s including ‘Lord of the Rings’).
With the summer months fast approaching I wanted to mention two coming of age films, both set over everyone’s favourite season. ‘Kings of Summer’ carries with it the same kind of energy that made the likes of ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘The Goonies’ such modern classics. The film follows Joe, Patrick and Biaggio, three teenage friends, as they opt to spend their summer building a make-shift house in the woods near their homes. Beautifully shot, the film perfectly encapsulates the highs and lows that can only come from youth and sunshine. Similarly ‘The Way Way Back’ focuses on the changes that summer can bring. 14-year-old Duncan goes on his summer vacation only to find himself desperately alone, with his mother’s domineering boyfriend constantly on his back. Duncan finds solace in a job at a local water-park, owned by a proprietor both philosophical and crazy in equal parts. With some solid performances from a young cast and expectedly great performances from the older performers, it’s piece of cinema meant for easy viewing on those warm July nights.
If you hear the name Joss Whedon nowadays, the chances are that it’ll be uttered in the same sentence as the word Marvel. Having created one of the most commercially successful films of all time in ‘The Avengers’ last year, you’d think that Joss would be looking to move away from independent cinema. But with his modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, the director and writer has proven that his lightning sharp wit and speedy dialogue are suitable for any genre. Shot in black and white, the film tells of two pairs of lovers, each with a different perspective on romance. For those looking for something for something sharp and engaging; Whedon’s movie will be sure to bring a smile to your face.
2014 has already kicked off to a fantastic start for cinema, with Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ and Wes Anderson’s ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ already delighting audiences around the globe. It’s important that in today’s crowded box-office, we all make a conscious effort to appreciate and accommodate for independent cinema. There’s a wealth of big-budget sequels and adaptations constantly in production but without actively seeking out those lesser-known films, there’s a danger of no new talent bursting its way through. Marvel films and best-selling books brought to screen are great, but if we give more independent films a chance, our box-office options will be more varied and vibrant than ever.
Independent cinema can give us an insight into the innermost details of life; the relationships and emotions we experience everyday. I’ve spoken before about the idea of idea recycling and the influence it holds over the box-office but this is where independent cinema can attract audiences. Whereas blockbusters have set formulas and concepts they must adhere to; independent works can strive to be individual, to push their own boundaries and stretch imaginations. So maybe next time you’re heading to your local movie theatre; stop and head to your local independent cinema – You might be pleasantly surprised.